Tuesday, June 3, 2014

All about Wintergreen

Very often when we are hiking in the Grand Marais area, we come across wintergreen plants.  This past time there were lots of berries, so we ate them as we went.  We also chew on the leaves like gum.  When we hiked the other day, sure enough there was wintergreen.

Wintergreen is a group of plants. Wintergreen once commonly referred to plants that remain green (continue photosynthesis) throughout the winter. The term evergreen is now more commonly used for this characteristic.

Most species of the shrub genus Gaultheria demonstrate this characteristic and are called wintergreens in North America, the most common generally being the Eastern Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens).

Wintergreen berries are used medicinally. Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves to alleviate rheumatic symptoms, headache, fever, sore throat and various aches and pains. During the American Revolution, wintergreen leaves were used as a substitute for tea, which was scarce.

Wintergreen is a common flavoring in American products ranging from chewing gum, mints and candies to smokeless tobacco such as dipping tobacco (American "dip" snuff) and snus. It is also a common flavoring for dental hygiene products such as mouthwash and toothpaste.

Although wintergreen has a strong "minty" smell and flavour, Gaultheria plants are not true mints.

These plants are used to produce oil of wintergreen. Wintergreen oil is a pale yellow or pinkish fluid liquid that is strongly aromatic with a sweet woody odor (components: methyl salicylate (approx. 98%). 

Wintergreen essential oil is usually obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of the plant following maceration in warm water. Methyl salicylate, the main chemical constituent of the oil, is not present in the plant until formed by enzymatic action from a glycoside within the leaves as they are macerated in warm water.
Also in today's blog posting is a photo below of an agate window I recently made for my daughter-in-law's aunt.  Thanks Betsy for the order and for sending the photo!  This agate window is 58 inches by 7 inches.


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